Symbiosis: A 'connection' of generations

Symbiosis is an innovative project targeting on the development of a public care unit suitable for co-housing the elderly and children, effectively exploiting the benefits of the safe cohabitation between the two generations. Employing primary and secondary research methodologies and exploiting design ideas and considerations developed, all the objectives of the project were successfully achieved. More specifically, a thorough literature review successfully conducted to identify and verify the beneficial effects of the cohabitation of elderly and children and the activities that benefit both groups guiding the shaping of Symbiosis concept. It is well documented in the scientific literature that through the intergenerational interaction, mental health and well-being are improving, the generation gap is being bridged and social relations are developing. Additionally, primary research, focusing on site and spatial analysis and creating questionnaires, as well as secondary research, such as literature review and analysis of related case studies (daycare centers, community centers and more), conducted in order to analyze and specify the design requirements and approaches that will be applied to this project. More specifically, based on the data collected from the questionnaires, among others, the positive impact of co-housing both groups validated (almost 73% agrees) and the proposed uses of the spaces and the users of each space were defined. In addition, the impact of colors in the psychological well-being of the elderly and children, considering the type of use is hosted in each space and the level of arousal each activity requires were explored. Consequently, for each space depending on the intended activity, colors that positively affect the well-being of each group have been identified and successfully adopted in the final design, ensuring visual comfort through color contrasts. Moreover, literature review as well as analysis of selected case studies were employed as guidance and inspiration for the design development, highlighting the requirements and impact of visual connections between interiors as well as interiors and exteriors, among others. Additionally, prominent necessities, such as accessing the space without steps, and anthropometric measurements for the diverse age groups were identified and integrated in the project, leading to an inclusive design approach (elevator, lack of uneven flooring, adjustable and scalable furniture etc.). Moreover, special interest is given towards the achievement of a variety of SDGs targets relying on the inclusive design approach, the use of renewable energy sources such as solar panels and solar water heaters, as well as ensuring the wellbeing and mental health of both elderly and children. Finally, through a variety of design methods including drawings, sketches, mood boards and 3D renders the project development is exhibited in detail. More specifically, the proposed spatial arrangement, the implementation of connections, the selected colored palettes, the ergonomic and sustainable design and the materials employed are presented.

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To generate a concept and develop design proposals, the big idea should be determined; the big idea would inform all stages of design development, giving the direction for the decision making.

But how the big idea could be determined?

In order the big idea of the project to be identified, a review of the secondary and primary research was carried out. Through this process, a common and prominent need was identified in each finding, which was the role of connections. More specifically, one of the requirements that must be met in the final project, is to ensure users’ visual comfort. This can be achieved by combining colors since this creates color contrasts. Additionally, some of the spatial requirements of the project are achieved through visual connection of indoor spaces as well as the visual connection between the indoor and outdoor spaces. Moreover, the existence of two separate buildings on the site requires their connection to ensure the safe movement from one to the other building.
Therefore, the big idea of this project is the ‘connections’ which is aligned with and highly supports the aim of this project. ‘Symbiosis’ aims to combine and connect the diverse generations in a social care unit, emphasizing the role and the impact of interior architecture.
Subsequently, ways of translating the meaning of connections into the interior architecture were explored. Thus, a concept mood board was created that shows the connections applied in the project and inform the design; multiple of the following connections are applied in each indoor space. These are:

• visual connection between the interiors
• shared spaces and activities for elderly and children
• visual connection between the interior and exterior
• connection of existing buildings
• combining colors
• combining scales
• furniture joints
• connection with the nature

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Special attention was paid to the selection of sustainable materials which are applied in the proposal. More specifically:
• Birch Plywood is used throughout the proposal and is protected with Osmo Polyx Oil (which is a natural product that provides a safe, water-resistant, and durable finish).
• The proposed fabrics for upholstery are produced using organic methods, they are are non-toxic, washable and extremely durable.
• Natural surfaces are proposed as upholstery to furniture.They come from organic materials such as flowers, and they bring a reminiscent of the natural world indoors since they have been impregnated -slightly- with the aroma of the material they are made of.
• Fenix NTM is used for kitchen’s worktop, backsplash, and cabinets. It is a durable, soft touch, self-healing worktop material, fingerprint resistant and easy to clean. Also, its matt finish provides visual comfort.
• Vinyl flooring is used almost throughout the proposal. It is a durable, easy cleaning, phthalate free, anti-bacterial, slip resistant, and has sound reduction properties.
• All the paints are selected from an eco-friendly Scandinavian company who excels in hardwearing finishes. Also it is low in VOCs.

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Ground Floor Facilities & Main Characteristics

Shared areas for the elderly and children:

A) Reading area: It is a place where seniors and older children can read books, it is also a gathering place for both groups, where seniors tell stories and fairy tales to children. This activity has been mentioned as one of the favorite indoor activities for children. At the same time, it enhances the relationship between the two age groups.
B) Dayroom: It is located in the added volume that connects the two existing buildings and acts as a covered seating area.
C) Dining room & Kitchen: They are located into the smaller building; To provide visual connection between the dining area and the corridor of the main building, the openings of the old gym were moved to parallel the openings of the main building. In this way caregivers can discreetly supervise the shared area. Thus one of the requirements collected from the questionnaires is met.
D) Outdoor activity area: It includes planting and garden cultivation areas, and a playground which is located inside a low fence 45 cm high that can be used as a seat for supervision and rest. Gardening was proposed as activity since it has been proven to be beneficial for the development of the relationship between elderly and children.

Spaces addressed to the elderly:

A) Elderly Bedrooms: Three bedrooms (two triple and one double room) with a total capacity of 8 people are proposed; Two rooms provide accessible bathrooms for wheelchair users, while all three bathrooms provide privacy for the user by ensuring that sanitary are not visible from the hallway when the door is open (Parker et al., 2004).
B) Dayroom for elderly: It is a space where seniors can be socialized and enjoy their favorite indoor activities i.e. arts & crafts, board games, card games, and watching TV and movies. Also, it can be used for visits; The space is visible from the threshold through the use of glazed partitions, still it is not more than 15m walk from the bedrooms of the elderly (Parker et al., 2004). Thus, safety and support of the physical weakness of the seniors are ensured.

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First Floor Facilities & Main Characteristics

Shared areas for the girls and boys:
A) Playroom: It is a place where children can play, listen music and dance. As already mentioned, children feel secure seeing a familiar person (caregiver, elderly, or older child) near them e.g. when they play. Thus, two openings were designed in order to provide visual connection between the playroom and the corridor/multi-purpose space, and bring natural light into the space. These openings are aligned with the existing windows of the facade, thus view of the surrounding area is also provided.
B) Multipurpose space: This space is mainly used as a study area for children. However, it can also be used for the rest of their favorite activities i.e., arts & crafts and board games, and elderly can have access in order to help and supervise the children, if it is needed. This area consists of two units which are visually connected through a void onto their partition wall, allowing the communication and interaction of all users.

Spaces addressed to the each gender:
A) Boys’ bedroom: (capacity of 5 boys) with ensuite bathroom.
B) Girls’ bedroom:(capacity of 6 girls) with ensuite bathroom.

Ergonomic toilets and sinks are provided in the boys ‘and girls’ bathrooms for all age groups (4-6, 6-8 and 8-12 years old), in order to ensure the safety and comfort of the children during their use. In this way, children feel independent and thus their well-being is improved. In addition, for children aged 4-6, who still need assistance to take a shower, a larger unit which includes a toilet and shower is provided so that caregivers can assist.

Secondary areas:
A) Dayroom: It is a space where children can watch movies and play videogames, both of which were reported as some of their favorite indoor activities.

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Design Considerations

Indoor areas:
In each of the main areas of the building, there is a colored zone, from the floor to the windows. Its purpose is to attract the attention and stimulate the perception of the elderly and children, in order to ensure their orientation. In addition, it creates an interesting design element throughout the proposal.
The spaces that are mainly used by children are characterized by circular and curved shapes.
Respectively, the spaces that are mainly used by elderly are characterized by rectangular and square shapes.
In shared areas, a combination of the two geometries is applied. Therefore, rectangular shapes with rounded corners are observed

Outdoor areas:
The same idea is transferred outdoors as well. The configuration of the surrounding area consists of planting and garden cultivation areas that form rectangular sections with rounded corners, as they are used by both groups; while the fence of the playground forms a curved shape, since the area is mainly used by children.